November 2nd, 2011
10:23 AM ET
(CNN) - President Obama is implying he may personally weigh in on whether to allow construction of a 1,700 mile oil pipeline which is at the center of a bitter environmental battle.
The Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta, Canada, through Texas, pits the promise of jobs and an economic shot in the arm against opponents who say it threatens to poison groundwater resources across the Heartland. Pipeline operator TransCanada insists it will include safeguards to protect people and property.
During an interview Tuesday with CNN's Omaha, Nebraska, affiliate KETV, Obama implied for the first time that he would personally contribute to the decision whether to green-light the project.
"Folks in Nebraska, like folks all across the country, aren't going to say to themselves, 'We're going to take a few thousand jobs if it means our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health," Obama told KETV."When somebody gets sick, that's a cost that society has to bear as well. So these are all things that you have to take a look at when you make these decisions."
Until now, Obama and the White House have been saying the final decision on Keystone XL would be up to officials at the State Department, following an environmental impact analysis and a public commenting period. Environmentalists have been insisting that the decision is up to Obama himself, because he heads the administration. They've been calling on the president to block construction as part of his 2008 campaign promise to move the country away from polluting fossil fuels.
"This is a step in the right direction and I'm encouraged to see President Obama take full ownership on this issue," said Courtney Hight, an environmental activist who formerly worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "But for all of us, outright rejection of the pipeline is going to be key. He talks about protecting public health and that's what we do on a daily basis, so it's encouraging to see that."
Just a day before Obama's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney continued to hold the administration line that Obama would not make the decision personally. "... this is a decision that will be made by the State Department, or is housed within the State Department," Carney said during Monday's press gaggle.
Several wealthy Democratic donors said last week their support for Obama's 2012 campaign will be tied to the administration's decision about Keystone.
A final decision on the pipeline is expected by the end of the year.
In August, the State Department said a federal analysis of the project showed there "would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor."
More than 1,200 demonstrators were arrested last summer during a sit-in protest outside the White House.
Pipeline opponents plan to return to Washington on Sunday, when environmental groups plan to form a human circle around the White House.